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  • Kirsten Kyllingstad

I Almost Died. Here's What I Learned.

My former fiancée was/is a firefighter. He got this great idea for a fun date day from one of the guys at the station. Float down the river from Barton to Carver. He told me how fun it was going to be and how easy. He told me how many people do it all the time and how highly recommended it came. So, I agreed to go. We brought two tubes, a towel to dry off our feet after getting out, a water for me, and lots of alcohol for him. We parked one car at our “out” point – right by a bridge. Great. It would be easy to find. We continued on to our “in” point in the second car.


Upon arrival I saw the signs posted everywhere talking about how lifejackets were required. I didn’t want to go. This sounded more dangerous than I was anticipating. He kept saying that it was totally safe and that they just always post those signs because of whatever. I don’t even remember. But all his friends had done it. They didn’t wear lifejackets. It is easy, and fun, and super tame. So I said ok. I was mad, but I agreed to go.


We put in and promptly I was taken over a small waterfall and dumped over, everything starting to float away. He was dumped as well and was actually stuck in the downpour of the waterfall for a bit before he could actually jump his way out. He grabbed my towel for me and tied it to my tube. It was the first towel I had ever picked out on my own and had since I was a child. It was nostalgic for me and I was glad to have it. Everything else we had brought floated away. We should have bailed. We didn’t. He continued to say it would be fine. Like an idiot, I went along. Madder now and sopping wet, I climbed back in the tube.


The float didn’t take the anticipated 2 hours. Hour after hour ticked by. Some parts were so shallow that we had to get out of the tube and carry it as we walked on the rocky bottom of the river. Every corner I looked for the bridge and it never came. There were no places to get out and quit. We had to keep going. Sheer cliff faces lined many parts of the river. No houses. No other people. No turning back. It seemed like it would never end. We were starting to paddle with our hands now to try and move faster as we were starting to lose daylight. He was moving quicker than me and he disappeared around a bend. And that’s when it happened…


I got dumped again. This time I got stuck under a log. It felt like forever. I opened my eyes, panicked. I saw the towel in front of me. I grabbed it and it pulled me out from under the log as the tube was pulled down river in the current. I have no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t grabbed that towel and been pulled, that I would have died that day.


I managed to climb back onto the tube on my stomach and continue to paddle down the river using my hands. I was crying, cold, scared. As I rounded a bend I saw him. He was annoyed that I was taking so long. There was a rocky beach like area that came up on the right. We were actually discussing the possibility of “pulling over” and staying there overnight. But it had been 4 hours. We had to be close. It just couldn’t be that far away. So, we kept on.


Eventually, after close to 5 hours, we made it to the bridge. We got out. I am alive.


I have lived with an uncompromising “safety first” motto ever since. I do not care if I’m not popular. I do not care if I do not look cool. I do not care if it means we drove all the way here for nothing. And I do not care if it means I end up getting in a fight with whomever I am with. If whatever I am about to do cannot be done safely, I Do. Not. Do. It. My life is worth way more than that. And so is the life of the person I am with! I don’t live in a bubble. I still go out and do fun things. I just do them smartly - I pay attention and I focus on safety first. Life is precious. And we only get one.


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